Pretty much everything written about The Playboy Club has focused on its similarities to ABC's Pan Am, and the comparison doesn't do the former show any favors. Both are clearly inspired by the success of AMC's Mad Men, working hard to capture that show's sense of the style and allure of the early 1960s. But while Pan Am ditches the somber, thoughtful tone of Mad Men in favor of something sleek, glossy and fun, Playboy tries hard to manufacture seriousness with an overwrought crime storyline and some clumsy stabs at social commentary. The show can't pull off either element, and the historical references are awkwardly grafted onto the soapy storylines.
The narration from Hugh Hefner (which isn't set to last beyond the pilot) makes the show seem like one long advertisement, and it goes way overboard in touting Playboy as a progressive, forward-thinking brand. Instead of projecting an air of effortless cool, the show comes off as desperate, from Eddie Cibrian's faux-Don Draper performance (he even mimics Jon Hamm's vocal cadences) to the obvious, pseudo-shocking twists of the murder/mob storyline.
The crime stuff dwarfs everything else so effectively that it seems like the show is a crime drama set around the Playboy Club, rather than a Playboy Club drama featuring a crime element. Every plot thread is misguided and mishandled, and even though star Amber Heard has plenty of charisma, she can't hold this mess together. If you want your snazzy early-'60s fix, wait for Mad Men to come back next year, or just wait a week and watch Pan Am instead.